On the role of sexual selection in ecological divergence: A test of body-size assortative mating in the eastern newt Notophthalmus viridescens


Speciation processes initiated by divergent selection often fail to complete; yet, how sexual selection is involved in the progress of ecological speciation is rarely understood. Intraspecific body-size variation affects mate preference and male-male competition, which can consequently lead to assortative mating based on body size. In the present study, we tested the importance of body size difference in the potential of assortative mating between the two eastern newt subspecies, larger Notophthalmus viridescens viridescens and smaller Notophthalmus viridescens dorsalis. Through differential expression of life-cycle polyphenism, these two subspecies are adapted to contrasting environments, which has likely led to the subspecific body-size difference. We found that males of both subspecies preferred larger females of N. v. viridescens as mates presumably because of the fecundity advantage of larger females. On the other hand, no evidence of female choice was found. Larger males of N. v. viridescens exhibited greater competitive ability and gained primary access to larger females of their own kind. However, smaller males were able to overcome their inferior competitive ability by interfering with larger males' spermatophore transfer and sneakily mating with larger females. Thus, the subspecific body-size difference importantly affected sexual selection processes, resulting in nonrandom but not completely assortative mating patterns between the larger and smaller subspecies. Although life-cycle polyphenism facilitates the intraspecific ecological divergence within N. v. viridescens sexual selection processes, namely smaller males' mate preference for larger females and sexual interference during spermatophore transfer, may be halting completion of the ecological speciation. © 2010 The Linnean Society of London.

Publication Title

Biological Journal of the Linnean Society